Star Trek: Season 3, Episode Twenty-Two “The Savage Curtain”

Stardate: 5906.4 (2269)
Original Air Date: March 7, 1969
Writer: Gene Roddenberry and Arthur Heinemann
Director: Herschel Daugherty

“I am Abraham Lincoln.”

Rating: 2 out of 5.

The Enterprise is conducting an observation exercise over a volcanic planet known as Excalbia where they surprisingly discover a source of artificial power (Sulu notes it is being generated in factor-7 quantities, which would indicate there is a considerable civilization that has been constructed on Excalbia). The presence of life seems impossible because the planet’s surface is composed of molten lava and the atmosphere is poisonous. When the Enterprise attempts to flee, it is scanned and taken over by… Abraham Lincoln?

Eager to welcome the greatest of American presidents, the crew dresses in their finest and they beam aboard President Lincoln (played by Lee Bergere). Scotty dons a Scottish kilt and comically speculates if Louis of France and maybe the Robert the Bruce will also be beamed aboard. When President Lincoln arrives, they are suspicious but awestruck. Who or what is this alien they have beamed aboard? Can we believe that Abraham Lincoln has been reincarnated? Or is this merely an alien impersonator? President Lincoln is given a tour of the Enterprise and he greets Lt. Uhura as a “charming negress” and then they discuss human culture having evolved over time –an incredibly strange and uncomfortable scene, even for TOS, however Uhura calmy deflects and claims that by the 23rd century, people have finally learned not fear words. A bold and impressive statement from the ship’s communications officer!  

Soon, Kirk and Spock beam down to the surface of Excalbia with President Lincoln where their weapons suddenly disappear and they meet Surak (Barry Atwater), greatest of all Vulcans who curiously died several centuries prior. Then a rock-like being called Yarnek introduces himself who wishes to run an experiment, a competition of which is superior –good or evil. He then introduces a cohort of characters who fill the Enterprise crewmen to the death –Genghis Khan (Nathan Jung); Colonel Green (Phillip Pine) who once led a genocidal war in the early 21st century on earth; Zora (Carol Daniels DeMent), who experimented with the body chemistry of subject tribes on Tiburon; Kalhess “The Unforgettable” (Robert Herron), who once set the pattern for the Klingon string of planetary tyrannies. In the competition, Kirk and Spock must survive in order to return to the Enterprise, which will explode unless Kirk and Spock (joined by Lincoln and Surak) win the battle in four hours-time.

Colonel Green offers an olive branch to Kirk by claiming he and his companions were all were tricked into visiting this planet, but they can no longer remember the circumstances –thus they all actually have common cause against the creature Yarnek and the Excalbians. However, he quickly backstabs Kirk’s team. The battle sequence drags on in one of the worst in TOS, and both Abraham Lincoln and Surak are killed. Eventually, Yarnek interrupts the fight and concludes there is no difference between good and evil. Kirk and Spock are then allowed to return to the Enterprise. Nothing is really resolved and no answers are provided as to the mystery of the Excalbians.  


My Thoughts on “The Savage Curtain”

There are some “bad” episodes of Star Trek that I nevertheless still really enjoy, and then there are episodes like “The Savage Curtain,” an episode which I found to be barely watchable. It was surprising to learn that many Trekkies actually find this a somewhat praiseworthy outing. Currently, this sits somewhere near the bottom of all the Star Trek episodes I have thus far reviewed. As Dr. McCoy states early on, “There’s no intelligent life here.” Chock this one up to another silly filler episode as Star Trek rapidly approaches its third season conclusion.

With that being said, the introduction of Surak was at least an intriguing aspect of this episode, along with the strange rock creature, Yarek.


Writer/Director

Gene Roddenberry’s initial title for this episode was “Mr. Socrates.” It was intended to explore Socratic investigation of which is better –good or evil—and was supposed to be a negative commentary on the nature of network television, however it was significantly revised, with perhaps only one single line from the original treatment kept in the final script which was completed by Arthur Heinemann.

Director Herschel Daugherty (1910-1993) directed two episodes of TOS, other being “Operation: Annihilate.”


Star Trek Trivia:

  • This episode identifies Kirk’s personal hero as Abraham Lincoln.
  • In this episode, Surak is erroneously referred to as one of the “greatest living Vulcans’ even though he has been dead for centuries.
  • Several notable characters are introduced in this episode who later reappear in various Trek iterations –Colonel Green reappears in Enterprise, Kahless the Unforgettable reappears in TNG, and Surak reappears in Enterprise.
  • This episode features the final appearance of a Vulcan and a Klingon in the Original Series.
  • Barry Atwater could not perform the Vulcan salute naturally with his hand, so when he bids farewell, he lowers his arm so his hand is out of view as he pushes his fingers against his body to configure them properly.
  • Bartell “Bart” LaRue (1932-1990) performed the voice of Yarnek. He also voiced numerous other characters in Star Tre, including the Guardian of Forever in “The City on the Edge of Forever.” Janos Prohaska (1919-1974) performed the physical character of Yarnek. He previously appeared in other Star Trek episodes including as a Mugatu in “A Private Little War,” the Horta in “Devil in the Dark,” and an Ape and Bird in “The Cage” and “The Menagerie.” He tragically died along with his son and 34 others in a plane crash in 1974 while filming a show called Primal Man.

Click here to return to my survey of the Star Trek series.

2 thoughts on “Star Trek: Season 3, Episode Twenty-Two “The Savage Curtain”

  1. For all its obvious questionability as a Star Trek episode, it was my first intro in childhood to any actor playing President Lincoln and Lee Bergere gave a very good performance. So I for one will always remember it well for that much. Thank you for your review and trivia.

    Liked by 2 people

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